Does Your Verbal and Non Verbal Communication Jive?
by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC
We all know that we communicate both verbally and non verbally. Even when we are not talking, we are communicating with our bodies. This includes our gestures, eye contact, facial expressions and even how we are standing/sitting (posture).
Have you ever had the experience when someone was telling you something and there was something “kind of off” or you weren’t quite sure why but you didn’t connect with their message. Often this is because our non-verbal communication actually speaks louder than the words we use.
According to Albert Mehrabian, best known for his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages, he stated that 7% of our communication is the words we use, 38% is based on the tone of our voice and the remaining 55% is our non verbal communication. We cannot fake our non verbal communication and when there is a disconnect in messaging, the listener will more often than not will believe the non verbal.
I can remember my first management job where the Purchasing agent reported to me. She would often leave my office looking confused and frustrated. I thought she was just going through something in her personal life and really didn’t think too much of it. One day she came into my office and presented me with her resignation, I was shocked. I thought she was doing a great job and I thought we got along well. I couldn’t have been more wrong. She explained that she couldn’t work for me anymore because the words I used communicated that she could take her time to finish projects but my tone and body language communicated that I wanted it done NOW! She said she actually felt like I was screaming at her. That was a big eye opener for me as I wasn’t aware of the mixed messages I was sending her. From then on I was very careful to make sure what I was communicating both non verbally and verbally was what I wanted to say. This was no easy task as we do so much of our non verbal unconsciously. I did some research on the topic and found out very quickly I was not alone, many people have faced this same challenge. I learned that how others perceive and respect you has a lot to do with your non verbal skills, not just when you are giving a presentation, but how you communicate every day.
One of the ways to manage your non verbal communication is to learn to manage your stress levels. If you have to communicate with someone when you are really stressed out, it is best to take a break first. Because our emotions control our non verbal language you can actually send a mixed or confusing message to your listener when you are stressed. One of the recommendations is to develop your emotional awareness. By being tuned into your own emotional state, it will help you accurately read others body language, respond appropriately showing you are listening and create trust by sending congruent messages.
Here are a few tips to evaluate non verbal communication:
- Tone of Voice – how intense is it? Is it warm? Does the person sound strained or confident? Is there care or concern in their voice?
- Eye Contact – is the amount of eye contact comfortable or does it feel intense?
- Posture – how are the standing/sitting? Do they look relaxed or uptight and stiff?
- Timing – does the conversation flow easily and do the non verbal cues support the flow?
The one thing I have learned over the years is to trust my instincts when it comes to listening to whole person. If my instincts tell me something is not quite right I believe them.
I recommend doing your own emotional awareness assessment to make sure when you communicate your message will be heard, understood and believed.